Atlanta (November 15, 2006) ï¿½ A new report calls for a major "rethinking" and "rewriting" of Atlanta's long-range transportation plan and proposes four major toll road projects to significantly reduce the region's current and projected traffic congestion.
Everyone agrees Atlanta's traffic is bad and will only get worse. The Atlanta Regional Commission says that by 2030 a rush-hour trip will take 67 percent longer than it should. In a report released in August, the Reason Foundation put that number at 85 percent ï¿½ meaning what is supposed to be a 30-minute trip would take you over 55 minutes. That's worse than the infamous traffic in today's Los Angeles.
To reduce Atlanta's existing gridlock and accommodate future growth, the new study published by the Reason Foundation and Georgia Public Policy Foundation recommends four essential projects that would be paid for in large part by the private sector or toll revenues and not tax dollars.
- A network of variably-priced toll lanes added to the entire freeway system, instead of the currently planned (but only partially funded) set of high-occupancy vehicle lanes. These express toll lanes could be utilized free of charge by buses and vanpools, providing a congestion-free alternative that would speed up service and significantly upgrade the region's mass transit system. They would also guarantee drivers always have the option of lanes moving at the maximum speed limit when they are late for work, have to catch a plane, or get to their child's soccer game. This plan would convert the existing carpool lanes into toll lanes and build another 1,132 lane miles to form a seamless network of connecting toll lanes using advanced, hassle-free toll collection technology. The project could be completed in four phases for a total of $9.14 billion (in 2003 dollars). Projected toll revenues suggest that toll revenue bonds could be issued to pay for it without tax dollars.
- A double-decked tunnel linking the southern terminus of Georgia 400 with I-20 and later with the northern terminus of I-675. The tunnel would provide major relief to the Downtown Connector (I-75/85), the most congested portion of the freeway system. This tunnel is based on a similar project currently being constructed beneath Versailles, France. A tunnel is recommended because the high land values in the downtown area make above-ground expansion too costly. The study finds the full set of tunnels could be built at a cost of $4.8 billion (in 2005 dollars). Toll revenues would support nearly 40 percent of the project, the remaining construction expenses would need to come from surplus revenues from the express toll network or from conventional highway funds.
- A new east-west link to relieve I-20, made up of the existing Lakewood freeway, extended to the east by a new toll tunnel and to the west by upgrading portions of Campbellton Road and Camp Creek Parkway. On this route, just 28.2 of the 111.2 lanes miles would be toll lanes.
- A separate toll truckway system, permitting heavy trucks to bypass Atlanta's congestion in exchange for paying a toll. A portion of this system would be tunneled below downtown.
These four projects would cost $25 billion and commuting times would be significantly shorter than they are today.
"Adding significant new roadway capacity is an integral part of reducing congestion in Atlanta," says study author Robert Poole, who has advised the last four presidential administrations and is director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation. "But capacity expansion needs to be coupled with better system management (such as ramp metering), faster clearance of incidents, and better traffic signal synchronization." The 76-page report addresses all of these issues.
"Congestion costs this region economically, and it has become a huge quality-of-life issue," says Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. "Instead of penalizing Atlantans for their chosen lifestyle by neglecting the dire need for added capacity, we should make them consider the value of their trip. Toll lanes provide that option."
The State Road and Tollway Authority issued this statement:
- "This report by Bob Poole and the Reason Foundation offers intriguing perspectives in the ongoing dialogue about how to address the metro Atlanta areaï¿½s traffic congestion concerns. It should be read and considered by all who are faced with making critical decisions regarding Atlanta's transportation future. SRTA is particularly encouraged by the Reason Foundation's endorsement of tolling and user-fee financing as an important component of any effort to provide mobility and funding options to the Atlanta region and the State of Georgia."
The Reason-GPPF study says by using toll lanes Atlanta can get the private sector to pay for large portions of the construction costs and will need fewer new lane miles over the long haul because priced, managed lanes can maintain their higher rush-hour capacity. Citing experience in California, the study explains how two priced lanes on the 91 Freeway in Orange County handle 49 percent of rush-hour traffic despite representing just 33 percent of the physical lane capacity.
The report also recommends several other ways to reduce the region's traffic delays. Large-scale freeway ramp metering could save Atlanta's drivers 5.75 million hours each year that are currently wasted sitting in traffic. Lowering incident response times and improved signal timing (already part of the Governorï¿½s Fast Forward program) could also substantially ease traffic.
The Reason-GPPF study also credits the Governor's Congestion Mitigation Task Force with making congestion-reduction its top focus. However, the study points out that unless the Atlanta Regional Commission's long-range plan is drastically changed, it will not achieve the Task Force's congestion-reduction goal. The current long-range plan would spend only $8 billion on more roadway capacity, while devoting $10 billion to transit projects. Despite spending $10 billion on transit, ARC projects just a 1.7 percentage point increase in transit ridership (to 8.4 percent of all commuters) by 2030. Likewise, the commission has $5 billion slated for additional carpool lanes even though it expects the percentage of carpool users to actually decrease.
"Atlanta is going to continue to grow and so are the traffic jams," Poole says. "In this case spending most of the available funding on transit and carpool lanes will mean more congestion. With limited resources available, we have to spend money where it will most effectively reduce congestion. For the foreseeable future, toll lanes are Atlanta's best answer."
Full Study Online
The full report, Reducing Congestion in Atlanta: A Bold New Approach to Increasing Mobility, can be found online at www.reason.org/ps351.pdf. Reason's previous report forecasting the future congestion levels in Atlanta is here: www.reason.org/ps346/ga.shtml. Reason Foundation's transportation research and commentary is here: www.reason.org/transportation/index.shtml.
About the Author
Robert Poole is director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation, a free market think tank he founded. The New York Times says Poole is the "chief theorist for private solutions to gridlock. His ideas are now embraced by officials from Sacramento to Washington."
Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the last four presidential administrations on transportation and policy issues. In the field of surface transportation, Poole has also counseled the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office, and state DOTs in numerous states.
Reason's Galvin Mobility Project
This study is part of the Reason Foundation Galvin Mobility Project, which is detailing our transportation crisis and developing practical, cost-effective solutions to traffic congestion. For more information, please visit: www.reason.org/mobility/index.shtml.
Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.
About Georgia Public Policy Foundation
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. For more information, please visit: www.gppf.org.
Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation, (310) 292-2386
Benita Dodd, Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, (404) 256-4050
Chris Mitchell, Director of Media Relations, Reason Foundation (310) 367-6109